A few years ago, there was a popular worship chorus sung in churches. The chorus stated “I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.” While I love the sentiment, I’m not sure it accurately describes how the term “friendship with God” is described in Scripture.
Jesus said in John 15:14-15 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus makes it clear that friendship with God is not automatically bestowed upon all His followers but is reserved for a more select group. So what is the mark of a friend of God? It would be tempting to read this passage and conclude that the primary distinguishing quality of a friend of God is obedience, period. After all, Jesus says “My friends…do what I command.” But look a bit more closely.
Jesus contrasts “friends” to “servants”. What’s the difference between a friend and a servant? Certainly not obedience. Servants are all about obedience. That’s what servants do—they serve, they obey. There must be something else that distinguishes a servant from a friend.
Jesus tells us what that something is: A servant doesn’t know his master’s business, but a friend does. Both obey, but only one does so from an intimate, relational heart posture. A friend is one who listens to His Master, whose heart is attentive to the voice of Jesus and then does what the Master says.
There are seasons in my life when my relationship with God would best be described in terms of a servant/employee of God. I’m trying my best to obey, but only because it’s what I’m supposed to do. My obedience is rooted in ought to’s and should’s. In those seasons, my level of joy is minimal, my irritation with myself and others is heightened. My spiritual walk begins to feel like a burden. But that’s not the life Jesus invites us to experience.
Jesus invites us to experience an intimate friendship with Him, where He shares with us His heart and we gladly align our lives with those loving purposes. When we do that, our obedience becomes a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘should’.
So how do we become a friend of God? Rather than focusing on obeying Him, we focus instead on loving Him, listening to Him, and living in the fullness of His love for us.